Crossposted from The American Street
Want to blame someone for John Kerry’s defeat? Writer John MacArthur thinks religion is to blame. In an article called “Religion's Kidnapping of the Campaign” published by The Providence Journal he argues that secularism is under assault by fanatical Christians who are trying to turn America into a theocracy.
MacArthur asserts that the founding principle of separation of church and state argues that politicians should be devoid of personal religious expression. His hero in this battle is, of course, Thomas Jefferson. But MacArthur shows an incredible lack of historical perspective. Jefferson argued – rightly – against the establishment of a state religion but the nation’s third president was himself a religious man. Garry Wills writes in his 1989 book Under God:
Jefferson’s words are put to many uses in debate over the relationship of the church to state in America. We know more about his personal views on religion than we know about any other person’s at the origin of our state. But our knowledge is drawn from sources denied to his contemporaries, who speculated widely about his “atheism” or made unfounded charges about his hostility to organized religion of all kinds. Echoes of those charges haunted his reputation, even to this day.
George W. Bush, from my standpoint, misused religion during this campaign (and during his first term) by arguing for a theology of empire in which America’s military power is an instrument of God’s will. MacArthur is incensed that John Kerry didn’t completely disassociate himself from faith in the campaign.
…John Kerry, the quasi-secular Catholic, makes sure he's photographed with the proper forehead smudge on Ash Wednesday. Threatened by Catholic priests furious with his defense of abortion rights, he tries to outdo Bush in his declarations of religious faith.
No surprise that in the final presidential "debate," Bush again stated with jaw-dropping arrogance that "God wants everybody to be free" and "that's been part of my foreign policy. In Afghanistan, I believe that the freedom there is a gift from the Almighty."
Kerry, instead of simply affirming Article VI and the First Amendment, upped the ante: "Everything is a gift from the Almighty"
More recently, in a speech in Florida, the Democratic candidate born into the citadel of Puritanism employed the word "faith" 11 times, while genuflecting to the enemies of liberty: those "great preachers and educators who taught the founders of our nation to believe that we could create a great and shining City on a Hill here in America."
This is a religious qualification for public servants desired by Puritans (ancient and modern) and banned by the Constitution -- yet now, in effect, established. The vote today may well turn on the perception of each candidate's religious faith.
Kerry’s only mistake in talking about his religious faith was not doing it soon enough (see related post). Faith in God and in a progressive form of Catholicism clearly help guide Kerry’s decision making process. Voters want to know what makes a candidate tick. When you attempt to hide who you are at the core people can feel that and wonder where your values develop. No one had to ever guess at Bush’s core (flawed as it is). He would have felt more “real” to voters if he had been more open about who he was.
Discussing your faith is a far cry from embracing theocracy.
America’s labor movement, women’s suffrage movement, and civil rights movement all had strong support from religious leaders in America. Our government doesn’t need a state religion but our people have benefited from the actions of those who act out of their faith in God.
This election saw more efforts by progressive Christians to engage in the political process than at anytime in over a generation. Not all Christians are Bush Christians. It was good for America that hundreds of thousands of progressive Christians organized in churches and ecumenical groups to lift up issues of poverty, war & peace, and racial justice. My only wish is that we had been better organized. The Kerry campaign missed several opportunities to partner with the faith community in a meaningful way. Jim Wallis wrote today that:
Religion was a big factor in this election, and "moral values" were named as a key issue for voters in the exit polls. On the Republican side, George W. Bush talked comfortably and frequently about his personal faith and ran on what his conservative religious base called the "moral issues." On the Democratic side, Senator John Kerry invoked the New Testament story of the Good Samaritan, talked about the importance of loving our neighbors, and said that faith without works is dead - but only began talking that way at the very end of his campaign….
It is now key to remember that our vision - a progressive and prophetic vision of faith and politics - was not running in this election. John Kerry was, and he lost. Kerry did not strongly champion the poor as a religious issue and "moral value," or make the war in Iraq a clearly religious matter. In his debates with George Bush, Kerry should have challenged the war in Iraq as an unjust war, as many religious leaders did - including Evangelicals and Catholics. And John Kerry certainly did not advocate a consistent ethic of human life as we do - opposing all the ways that life is threatened in our violent world.
We didn't lose the election, John Kerry did, and the ways in which both his vision and the Democratic Party's are morally and politically incomplete should continue to be taken up by progressive people of faith.
MacArthur and the other secular liberals out there ought to welcome those of us who are progressive Christians to the table. We need to continue building bridges to progressive groups that are not expressly religious. Unfortunately, it was often the case that secular Democrats wanted nothing to do with religion in this campaign. MacArthur even mocked Kerry's faith in his article. Mocking religious people and excluding them from the progressive coalition was one of several mistakes that helped contribute to Kerry's defeat. Maybe we'll all do a better job in four years.